Report: Records Search On Joe The Plumber Improper

An agency director improperly used state computers to find personal information on "Joe the Plumber," a government watchdog said in a report released Thursday.

There was no legitimate business purpose for the head of Ohio's Department of Job and Family Services to order staff to look up the records, Inspector General Tom Charles said.

Investigators weren't able to determine whether the searches were politically motivated, the report said.

"All these searches were done in the midst of a national political campaign," the report said. "But we did not find any evidence that shows the data was accessed or information released in response to media requests in an effort to support any political activity or agenda."

Gov. Ted Strickland suspended the agency director, Helen Jones-Kelley, for a month without pay after reviewing the findings. He rejected a request to fire her.

Jones-Kelley said she accepts Charles' findings and should not have allowed the database searches.

"While there is a disagreement as to whether those searches were done for legitimate business purposes, my only intent was to fulfill my agency's fiduciary responsibilities to Ohio's families," she told the Dayton Daily News in a statement. "I am committed to implementing agency procedures which better protect confidential, personal information."

Earlier this month, Strickland placed Jones-Kelley on paid leave over separate allegations that a state computer or e-mail account was used to assist in political fundraising for Democrat Barack Obama's campaign.

The inspector general's report concluded that she improperly used state e-mail to engage in political activity.

The report looked into 18 background checks into Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, a Toledo-area man known as Joe the Plumber. He became a household name in the final weeks of the presidential campaign after asking Obama about his tax plan at a campaign stop near Toledo.

Eight of the checks were done without any legitimate business purpose, the report said. Charles recommended tighter policies on access to confidential information in state computer databases.

The findings have been forwarded to the Franklin County prosecutor's office in Columbus.

Jones-Kelley has said the search of Wurzelbacher's records were part of routine checks her agency conducts when someone suddenly emerges in the limelight.

She told state Senate President Bill Harris in a letter that records were checked because Wurzelbacher had indicated he might buy a business and it was determined that he owed back taxes. The department wanted to make sure appropriate actions were taken if he owed child support, received public assistance or owed unemployment compensation taxes, she wrote.

Jones-Kelley's reasoning was at times contradictory, inconsistent and ambiguous, the inspector general's report said.

It also found no policies or procedures to support her claim that it was the agency's practice to look into someone thrust in the spotlight.

As Wurzelbacher's profile was elevated in Republican John McCain's campaign, criticism over the Ohio search rose to a fever pitch.

Republicans were furious that Wurzelbacher was targeted, saying that he was simply a private citizen who stood up and questioned the Democratic presidential candidate.

Wurzelbacher did not answer his phone Thursday, and his voicemail box was full.

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  • by Matt Location: NC on Nov 23, 2008 at 09:46 PM
    ALPHA GIRL, We don't want/need government in our personal lives, end of story. God bless the old confederacy!
  • by ~ALPHA female~ Location: O84P on Nov 23, 2008 at 04:42 PM
    If you have nothing to hide....then what's the problem?! `Shrug`
  • by Kathy Location: Washington on Nov 23, 2008 at 01:34 PM
    Come on folks, do you really think this is an isolated event? Every single person in this country can be checked on for the slightest whim, I know because I did it for a living for 8 years for the dept of justice. When I say whim, here are some examples: "my daughter is going out with this guy and I just wanted to know something about him," "my neighbor acts really weird," "I bet she's been in rehab," etc, etc, etc. I would say a full 50% of the people I checked out were for legit reasons but I did what I was directed to do. Big brother is alive and well in the good ole USA.
  • by Anonymous on Nov 21, 2008 at 01:51 PM
    Joe was perpetrating a fraud when he said that he might buy a business. Who, in their right mind, would try to buy a business when he/she is behind in taxes. That's a fraud, my friend. Enough on Joe the Plumber, though.
  • by Cassidy Location: bedrock on Nov 21, 2008 at 09:28 AM
    Since WITN will not post my comment.To all,look up Helen and click "images" then you will see why she was NOT fired!
  • by Obama Snake Oil Co Location: Washington on Nov 21, 2008 at 08:44 AM
    Fox news had Joe suing Ohio for this. He should as it invaded his privacy and caused slander. Helen should be fired just like you or me for doing the same with our work computers and time for a campaign. Blog, this was no fraud, this was legitimate, sounds like you have drank the coolaid and it was good!
  • by Blog Refuter Location: NC on Nov 21, 2008 at 08:12 AM
    I don't think it was illegal. While Joe was perpetrating a fraud, she was being real. Let the truth be told.
  • by Tad Location: Jamesville on Nov 21, 2008 at 07:25 AM
    Alot of people who beleive in freedom and privacy rights care Jim. If a Republican had tried this hatchet job on an airheaded follower of the "one", you would care and you would be demanding a prosecution. Anonymous, we are still talking about Joe because laws and ethical standards were broken by this woman as she tried to marginalize him. Of coarse, democrats have never let ethics stand in the way of getting what they want before so this was no surprise. More importantly, this story is important because it is symtomatic of the way obama's entire machine was run. The would spread any lie to destroy anyone who would oppose the false messiah, hide the fact that obama is really a phony and suppress any facts that could damage his image. This whole election was nothing more than a marketing scheme and a fraud perpitrated on the American people by the "ONE" and his personal marketing firm, the main stream media.
  • by I agree with Fredo Location: NC on Nov 21, 2008 at 07:00 AM
    OK, so let's see...She was found to have used her government email for political purposes, but they were "unable to determine" if her records search on "Joe the Plumber" was politically motivated. She's a high ranking government official who targeted a citizen who asked a candidate, that she supported, a valid question, that she apparently didn't like. You do the math. This is not a "minor" infraction. When a government official targets a citizen for simply asking a question it's SERIOUS. She should be prosecuted.
  • by Anonymous on Nov 21, 2008 at 06:59 AM
    I agree this could happen to any of us. More communism on the way.
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